WESTMINSTER — The ongoing debate over the city's proposed widening of East Main Street pits progress against tradition, efficiency against character and trees against traffic volume.
And for the City Council, it all adds up to a sizable quandary, one that became no less complicated after a public hearing on the proposal Monday night.
"This is a dilemma," Mayor W. Benjamin Brown said flatly at the end of the hearing.
More than 100 people turned out at the Westminster Volunteer Fire Co. on Main Street for the hearing, a meeting marked by growing opposition to the plan and increased solidarity of its foes.
In fact, the first fissure in the previously rock-solid unity of the council emerged when Councilman William F. Haifley announcedhis growing discontent with the project.
"We do not need a wider Main Street that would encourage a higher volume of fast-moving traffic," Haifley said in the first expression of dissension from the council. "What we need is a bypass."
The $2.8 million proposal includes widening the street to a uniform 40 feet from Longwell Avenue to Quintal Drive on Washington Road. Currently, the road ranges from 34 feet to 39 feet wide, and averages 36 feet.
The proposal is aimed partially at alleviating increased traffic in the coming years. Some 14,000 vehicles now use the street each day, a figure expected to increase to 22,000 by the year 2010.
Also, the plans call for moving all utility poles from the south side of the street to the north side, removing most of the 43 existing trees in the project area, and revamping underground water and storm water pipes.
On Monday, 18 people rose to comment on the plan. Substantial applause followed the words of speakers who opposed the project.
"We're becoming incrediblyaccessible to cars," said Rebecca Orenstein, a Pennsylvania Avenue resident and founder of TreeAction, a group working to preserve trees along the renovation route.
"Cars are becoming the stars of our downtown," she said. "Let's have people first in Westminster."
Supporters of the project argued that widening East Main Street would be apractical way to improve public safety.
Fire department officialssaid East Main is too narrow and that traffic along the thoroughfareposes problems for getting ever-larger rescue vehicles up and down the street.
Large trees in some spots could make it difficult for firefighters to work with ladders to reach buildings on the street, they said.
"It could be a safety hazard," said Robert Schultz, assistant chief of the department. "We should look into the future while we have a chance to do it."
Main Street property owners complained about sidewalk space they would lose to widening, and about problems caused by inadequate drainage.
"When it rains, water backs up intomy basement," said Robert Fishpaugh, an East Main Street property owner.
In the middle of debate were residents who simply wanted whatever is done to be done right.
"Let's not get it all glopped up," said Main Street resident Jackie Finch. "Let's do it right."
The mayor said the public record on the proposal will remain open for an additional 10 days, and invited citizens to offer written comments on the plan.